Łódź has gone through a very deep and painful transformation. Perhaps that is why is was able to make such a huge leap forward. The city is the right place for the Expo. It has got its past and the soul, but is has also got a concrete economic significance – writes Michał BONI
The first picture is the Łódź from Andrzeja Wajda’s Ziemia obiecana. The city of developing capitalism. Full of poverty and wealth, of traditions of nobility and peasantry of Poland from the olden days. And full of power of the growing social class that made and understood the rules of the emerging market. Different people, nationalities, religions, temperaments. Just as the Pole, the German and the Jew played by Olbrychski, Seweryn and Pszoniak.
Possibly this is the first Polish city whose predatory urbaneness has been so deeply embedded in the collective Polish imagination.
The second thing about the city that I can see in my memories, although ones acquired from books, memoirs and historical reports, is Łódź of 1945 and 1946. Since Warsaw in ruins could not perform its duties of the capital, it was replaced in that partly by Lublin and Kraków, but mostly by Łódź, especially with cultural events. The most important theatrical plays had their premieres there. In Giraudoux’s Electra, for instance, with symbolic references to the tragedy of the Warsaw Uprising, the following great actors shared the stage: Aleksander Zelwerowicz, Jacek Woszczerowicz, Jan Kreczmar, Jan Świderski, Andrzej Łapicki, Czesław Wołłejko, Zofia Mrozowska, Halina Kossobudzka, Zofia Małynicz, Barbara Rachwalska, Antonina Górecka. Various weeklies were published, e.g. the sharply Marxist Kuźnica with texts by Żółkiewski, Hertz and Kott. It was a cradle of the after-war Polish cinematography with a prominent role of the Łódź film school. The memory of the ghetto – much different than the one in Warsaw, with other painful experiences of saving lives and the drama of the Shoah – has been vivid there. This is the theme of the monument designed by Czesław Bielecki several years ago.
Another picture: frame from a 70s newsreel. Strike of female textile industry workers and a visit of comrade Edward Gierek. Seeming respect for the hard work, some insincere promises – and on the other side the faces of tired, brave Polish women. A couple of good documentaries have been made, too, without the propaganda of the newsreels, with the harsh truth of life in Łódź instead, of one capitalist city poisoned by communist lies.
The early 90s: debates on the economic transformation, market economy, the new Polish capitalism, conditions of independence. Collapse of light industry, decline of other branches of industry and economy. Women back at home without work, some of them after a few years employed in small textile manufactures somewhere on the outskirts of Łódź. Jobless men. Aging local population versus growing number of students. The rebirth of universities. The economists from Łódź, e.g. Marek Belka, giving a strong impulse to Polish economy. Professor Michał Seweryński, the future rector and senator, improving the labour law.
I still remember myself in the office of labour minister with the Łódź supervisor of regional development and restructuring Bogusław Grabowski, discussing the prospects for Łódzkie voivodship. It must have been years later that the real development factors emerged, unimaginable in the early 90s.
Łódź has gone through a very deep and painful transformation. Perhaps this is why is was able to make such a huge leap forward.
New initiatives occurred, new services, too: financial, logistic, commercial. The tired old city began to regain its vitality. Streets were repaired, shopping malls and economic hubs were set up in the postindustrial spaces. The monuments of the 19th-century Łódź were restored, including the renowned Poznańskis’ Palace (Mansion). The well programmed EU money triggered new investments. The overall change of the city has been under way. Łódź got to understand the value of its difficult history. Even the popular crime series about the great dog Alex shows Łódź in action.
The city is the right place for the Expo. It has got its past and the soul, but is has also got a concrete economic significance.